A Little Bit About Gardening

Make a Garden a Refuge

ilbeach17It seems that bees are still in trouble, the monarchs are diminishing in number, and California is out of water.  The news can be so overwhelming and can make you feel helpless.  I believe we can all do just a little to make things better.  Your garden is a refuge.  Make it as safe as you can by using organic practices.  Mimic nature and feel good about it.

  • Harvest rain water.   I have a rain barrel for watering my front plot.
  • Plant flowers as well as vegetables.  Our bees need a safe place to get food.
  • Plant organic plants.  Residues of pesticides from growers can stay on plants for over a year.
  • Compost.  This can be as simple as a pile in the unseen corner of your garden.  If you plan on composting kitchen scraps, then get a rodent proof compost.
  • Start with organic soil.  Soil is the foundation of your garden.
  • Use neem oil.  It is a safe and organic way to combat fungal, mildew, and bug issues.
  • Add diversity.  Learn how to plan for blooms throughout the entire growing season, Spring through Fall.
  • Plant milkweed.  Monarch food!
  • Do a little research and avoid planting invasive species.
  • Give yourself a place to sit, relax, and observe.  It is amazing to watch bugs and birds that we often miss in our normal day to day life.


Organic Plant Sale Chicago, May 16th and 17th

kilbournsaleThis weekend, come rain or shine, the Kilbourn Park Greenhouse, located at 3501 N. Kilbourn, will have its annual organic plant sale.  Here’s the info:

When: Saturday May 16, 2015 and Sunday May 17, 2015 — 10am to 2pm each day

Cost: Free Admission

Plant Prices: $2.00 to $5.00 — CASH ONLY

Age Range: Everyone!

Organic Plant Sale:
Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse will offer more than 150 varieties of organically-grown vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings.  Customers can expect a wide variety of open-pollinated and heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  Other highlights include an assortment of herbs, greens and onions.  This year will feature many new plants selected for city gardening in small spaces and containers.   These seedlings are grown with the support of a team of dedicated volunteers who make this Plant Sale possible.  Volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about plant selection and planting.  This yearly fundraiser supports the greenhouse and our work to connect kids to nature and healthy foods.

Also Available at the Plant Sale:
Perennials and other plants donated by volunteers of the Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, organic compost, and light snacks.  In addition, a cookbook compiled by the Friends of Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse will be available for purchase.  Look for the Friends of Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse tables just outside the main gate to the gardens.

Harding off seedlings

hardingoff1If you started seeds late winter or early spring, you need to harden them off before transplanting them into the garden.  Seedlings have been coddled with the right heat, light, and little breeze.  It is time to help them get used to the world outdoors.



  1. On a mild, slightly overcast day, set the plants out in a protected area for two hours.  Start with morning hours when the sun is less intense.
  2. Gradually increase the time over the next 3-4 days, still starting in the morning and gradually working into the more intense sun.
  3. Let them camp out once nights are above 50 degrees (or use a cold frame to let them be slightly protected at night).
  4. After a week or so, your plants will be able to stay outdoors permanently.
  5. Transplant!  Just a reminder: when planting tomatoes, dig the hole, add compost, remove the bottom set of leaves (all the hairs on the stem will turn into roots), and plant deeply so that the next set of leaves is just above the soil.  This will ensure a healthier, sturdier plant!  hardingoff2


daffodils1 Upon seeing a clump of daffodils in a wooded area or a garden, my eyes widen with joy!  Narcissus are such a cheerful addition.  Not bothered by squirrels or deer,  they are no-brainer to plant in the fall.   Often, they open between crocus and tulip, arriving just after or at the tail end of hyacinth.  Most are yellow, but growers now offer many new varieties with flowers and trumpets of orange, pink, and white.  They naturalize into the landscape and many have a slight fragrance.

daffodil7Since they bloom before trees leaf out, you can plant them in places that are normally shaded by towering trees.  After the flower is done blooming, let the leaves remain until they brown in order to feed the bulb for next year’s blooms.

daffodil6After a heavy rain, you may need to pick up your flowers and give them a shake to get them to bounce back to their happy selves.

daffodil5I have a wide variety of daffodils in my garden.  My favorite, as of late, are the butterfly daffodils.  The trumpet is open and curled, mimicking the flounce of my early parrot tulips.


butterfly daffodil

Originally found along the Mediterranean, they now are grown in most zones 3-9 (think Paperwhites for the South, and more hardy varieties that need the cold of winter for the North).  The meanings of daffodil seem to stem around hope, rebirth, and joy.   Fitting, seeing how they beckon warmer weather of summer after the cold of winter.  Spotting dots of yellows throughout the cityscape of Chicago makes quite a cheery scene.  Hope they offer you some  joy in your day too!daffodil3

Signs of Life

early Spring2Chicago is a cool and damp city this week, but Spring is happening.  Small crocus have come and gone, larger crocus are opening, and the other beloved Spring bulbs are developing flower buds!  We have a somewhat short summer, so we need to take advantage of all the above freezing time we have.  Here are a few steps to insure you have a full Spring garden of flowers and veggies.

  • Turn compost pile and add to beds to amend the soil.
  • Sow your first (or second) round of radish, carrot, and lettuce seeds.
  • Sow sweet alyssum seed as a border and ground cover (tiny white flowers that bees love with a sweet honey smell).
  • You should be seeing the greening up of perennials like cone flower, shasta daisy, columbine, and rudbeckia.
  • Plant plugs of pansies, viola, snapdragons, stock, and English primrose.  All like the cool weather.
  • If you have cool veggies (broccoli, kale) you started indoors, now is the time to harden them off.  Start by introducing them to outside in 1-2 hour shifts over a few days, and then start leaving them out (semi-protected).  Next step is to transplant them on a partially sunny day to your garden.
  • Cut back all perennials if you haven’t done so already.
  • Lay soaker hoses for easy and efficient watering of your garden.

My big weekend plan is to get the stock I started out into the garden.  It looks like the weather may decide to cooperate.  Happy Gardening!early Spring

Volunteering at Kilbourn Park Greenhouse, Chicago

kilbourn1On Chicago’s northwest side in the Irving Park neighborhood is Kilbourn Park organic greenhouse.  I first learned about the greenhouse while doing my Master Gardner’s Certification.  I was so happy to learn that organic practices were being put to use in the city’s park district, and now that I live close, I volunteer there!  Folks from as far as Wheeling come down to help prepare for the plant sale (a huge money maker for the greenhouse).  Just to give you an idea of the size of the sale, I started 60 seeds of one variety of sunflower; and the previous week, I started 72 plugs of just one variety of tomato.  From the looks of it, there will be thousands and thousands of vegetables and flowers grown organically for the sale.kilbournkitty

Along with the pure joy of being in a greenhouse while things are still dormant outdoors, they have a few cute kitty friends.  A practice of organic pest control, these cats help ward off rabbits, rats, snakes, and the like.   If you are interested in helping this dedicated group of gardeners by volunteering, contact Georgia Chilton, ghchilton@gmail.com.

More to come on the prairie and the orchard as they spring to life in the coming weeks.  This is a true gem to Chicago.  For a brief history, please check out Friends of Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse.


crocus3How I love to see the first flowers after a white and grey winter.  Looking back at old garden pictures this past weekend, I could hardly believe the color of grass.  Is that vivid of a green even possible?  Take time in the fall to plant spring bulbs, and you will have something to look forward to as the days grow longer and the snow melts away.  Crocus are the sunshine of my life right now.   It is wonderful to spy the cup shaped flowers of yellow, white, and purple.  I do have other leaves of tulip and daffodil popping through the soil, and I’m eager to see them flower too.  But, for now, thank you little crocus! crocus2crocus1

Spring is arriving!

daffodil sproutsI can’t believe it!  Finally, the snow is melting!  The ground is showing (often with lots of melted dog poop, but it is showing).  I have bulbs popping up!  Spring is on it’s way, and it’s time to get out in the yard.

  • First and foremost, pick up the dog poop and trash.  It makes a world of difference.
  • As the snow recedes, take time to reset bricks and sweep.
  • Wipe down any outdoor furniture.
  • Clean up or bring out the fire pit (cool spring nights are perfect for backyard fires).
  • If you are lucky enough and your soil can be worked, then sow radish and snapdragon seeds.
  • Start cutting back perennials to ground level.
  • Start seeds indoors.  Starting just one small tray of seeds can give you your own organically grown plants.  Start seeds you never see at the garden center.  Try new varieties of peppers, tomatoes, or flowers!  Make sure you read the seed packet for individual instruction.seedlings
  • Build a cold frame (my weekend project) to get a head start on lettuces and other cool veggies.

Soon, we’ll be seeing lots of spring blooms!

spring tulips

Spring show at Garfield Park Conservatory


Plant Verbenia bonariensis with Care

benchI have greatly admired Verbena bornariensis since I spotted it at the Chicago Botanic Garden last summer.  It’s a wispy tall plant with fragrant purple flowers, very attractive to butterflies.  Also known as “purple top” and “South American vervain,”  it is hardy zones 7-11.  As a Northern gardener, I have started some seed this year.  It is grown in Chicago’s zone 5/6 as an annual, but please take care if you live in warmer zones This Verbena self seeds readily and has become an invasive plant in Southern and Western States.   Be conscious of the plants you introduce and the implications of your gardening habits.  For Northern gardeners, I feel that this is a beautiful annual, but if you live any zone warmer than 6, try an alternative, like Milkweed.  Milkweed offers a wonderful honey scent and is in dire need to be planted in gardens for our Monarch butterflies to survive.

Start Perennials from Seed

Red admiral butterflies on purple coneflower

Red admiral butterflies on purple coneflower

Starting plants from seed is the best way to ensure you are not putting unwanted pesticides and chemicals into your yard.  You’ll have happy pollinators with a healthy food supply.

Growing perennials is extra rewarding, since you’ll see your efforts return year after year. Here are a few full sun options to try:

  • Coneflower (comes in a variety of new colors, but purple is the original, butterfly magnet, winter seeds feed birds)
  • Shasta Daisy (cheerful white daisy)
  • Yarrow (clusters of tiny flowers with fern-like foliage, likes it hot and dry)
  • Rudbeckia (bright yellow flowers that attract butterflies)
  • Painted Daisy (fern-like foliage and pink daisy flowers)
  • Columbine (shooting star flower, usually bi-colored, reseeds readily)
  • Penstemon (tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds , come in a variety or colors, likes dry conditions.  I’m starting Firecracker, a show stopping orange/red that can take a little shade)

Most of these need to be started anywhere from 10 weeks to 6 weeks before the last frost date.  Starting seeds can help alleviate those winter blues.  So smile, Spring is on its way!